Aarambhindia Goes Live

www.aarambhindia.org, India’s first online portal on Child Sexual Abuse, is now live.

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This Too Shall Pass: An Open Letter to a Young Survivor

One more rape in India – This time a 6 year old girl, in a well known school in Bangalore. 

A letter from aarambh co-director Uma Subramanian to the little girl 

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Dear child,

These are tough times for you and your family. Perhaps you won’t be able to understand what is going around you. But let me tell you this too shall pass, everything does.

I am sorry my child. I am sorry, on behalf of those of us who failed to protect you from these demons. We have failed, and unfortunately no one scolds us if we fail.

Hope there are enough people around you to tell you that whatever happened was not your mistake. It never is. You were not supposed to be treated in a way that you were. I hope and pray that you get support and strength, to go to school, to play and do all those things that you love doing. Don’t ever think it was your mistake.

I am sure you must know by now that the name of the country we live in is India. Apart from knowing that the national flag has three colors and the rainbow has 7 – you must know that there are many children who suffer the way you did. Some of them are your friends living around your house, and many of them live in other parts of this country. Some live in villages and some live in cities. Some are troubled by demons unknown and some by elders who turn into demons.

Don’t ever think that we don’t love you; its just that we are too busy to take care of you and protect you everyday. You know we need to work on bigger problems; we need to make money so that we have enough food, electricity and water. We work hard so that you can have to have good roads to drive on and bullet trains to travel. So please don’t be angry that we don’t give you time.

Thank you for sharing this with your parents. I salute your courage. Remember that’s the only way we can fix this problem. If this ever happens again to you or your friends – don’t be afraid. You will have to learn how to protect yourself, try and identify these demons before they bother you. We will hopefully teach you how to do this in the near future.

I assure you that me and my friends will work hard to kill all these demons, it will take us some time, but we will get there.

Hope you get well soon,

Love,

Uma Aunty from Mumbai

Read more about this case and sign the petition to impose security measures in Schools. Originally published here.

Muskaan: Leading The Campaign Against Child Sexual Abuse in Pune

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Since 2000, Muskaan has been working in and around Pune with children and adults across a wide spectrum of families, communities, institutions and government agencies to campaign and create awareness about the issue of child sexual abuse.

What started as a collective campaign by concerned individuals and organizations to address a complex issue has now become a full-time program run by the Aalochana Center for Documentation & Research on Women.

Muskaan conducts awareness sessions, training, counseling and intervention for various groups. They run a help-line that provides information, help and support in and around Pune. They design and create resources and also run (as part of Aalochana) a resource centre with one of the comprehensive collection in the country of books, documents, pamphlets etc on child sexual abuse, gender, sexuality, women and other subjects.

Muskaan’s approach to prevention and treatment is child-centered and focused on child rights. Working under the aegis of Aalochana brings a feminist perspective that is unique to their work Their work promotes critical thinking and an awareness of gender and patriarchy.

The idea is to give children and adults a complete understanding of sexuality, their bodies and emotions. Through which they become aware of the imbalances of power structures and relations in society, which is one of the reasons for the widespread prevalence of sexual crimes against children.

Says the Muskaan team – “Muskaan was initiated because at the time (circa 2000), nobody seemed to be interested in speaking out about child sexual abuse. It made them uncomfortable. Initially we faced a lot of challenges. Schools were not keen while communities and families preferred not to speak about it.”

“It was only gradually that we realized that there was a demand for the work we were doing. As society becomes more courageous, sensitive and open about it, the demand only increases. We realized that we cannot stop what we are doing.”

 History

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Aalochana Center for Documentation and Research On Women

Aalochana Centre for Documentation & Research on Women is a Pune-based non-profit organization established in 1989. It was established by feminists who realized that while lots of work was being done by women’s movements across the nation there was no organization dedicated to documenting the work. There were several research institutions, even in Pune, but there were none which focused exclusively on women. Lack of literature in vernacular languages was one of the biggest roadblocks in reaching out to women in rural areas of Maharashtra.

There was a need to archive all aspects of women’s lives. The data needed to be collated, analysed and distributed. There was a need to bring a feminist perspective to the process. This was the initial impulse in setting up Aalochana and to make resources available in both, English and Marathi.

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The idea of Muskaan first came into being in October 2000. Aalochana along with Media Cell of SNDT College, Pune organized a screening of the child sexual abuse documentary ‘The Children We Sacrifice’. It was attended by a diverse group – child rights and women’s rights organizations, social workers, counsellors, doctors, media persons, lawyers, teachers, students and parents. A second screening and discussion at the Aalochana center was where the need for a group to deal with child sexual abuse was reiterated. Muskaan began its journey as a Campaign against Child Sexual Abuse comprising of volunteers.

As with most voluntary initiatives and campaigns, the idea of Muskaan as a campaign was time bound and it came to an end in April 2006. Some of the most committed volunteers felt that they should carry forward the good work.

Thus began the next phase of Muskaan as a program of Aalochana. It has since been going from strength to strength for the last 8 years.

The Challenges

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Parents are not aware and sensitive of the various aspects of child sexual abuse. They are reluctant to seek help and approach counsellors. They are unable to identify the symptoms of abuse. Issues like virginity, marriage prospects, reputation of family, social stigma are other reasons for suppression of cases. Action is rarely taken if the oppressor is a family member. The mother is usually in a position of denial or is powerless to take a stand.

Cases of abuse against boys are likely to be under-reported. Boys may feel greater humiliation and experience confusion about gender identity if the abuser is a male. They have less education of body and sexuality and lesser access to people with whom they can discuss sexual topics. Gender socialization makes them reluctant to talk about emotions and attitudes.

Convincing persons in authority to be child centred and pursue cases effectively is a challenge. There is a lack of confidence in the police and judicial process. Absconding abusers is a major problem. Inability to catch the abuser means that there is no safety or justice for the child and no deterrence to potential abusers. Also the abuser remains a potential threat to other children.

Bringing about a change in the patriarchal set up and gender biases which lead to abuse of power and authority against women and children is also seen as one of the major challenges for Muskaan.

Removing silence and stigma about Child Sexual Abuse and sexual matters in general is a challenge that Muskaan is trying to overcome. This would entail attitudinal changes which are difficult and slow to bring about.

The Principles of Change:

The ground reality can begin to change when:

Parents talk to children about body and sexuality in an open and trusting manner.

Boys are brought up to respect girls and women

Women and children are not looked upon as objects to be used

Macho attitudes are not accepted and glamourized in media or peer interactions

Rights of children are acknowledged and safeguarded

Abuse and misuse of power is not tolerated in any context

The Instruments of Change:

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The Muskaan team has many years of experience in working against child abuse. Their practise has evolved from on-the-ground experience, critical thinking, research and self-study. Their work involves direct outreach as well as connecting and partnering with larger NGO networks.

Their praxis takes into account the limitations and challenges faced by organizations working on child sexual abuse and they devise methods and practices to help overcome them. They have created and adapted various modules which they are now in the process of documenting. These modules can be easily taught, modified, adapted to a wide-spectrum of socio-cultural contexts and replicated on the ground. These invaluable toolkits are expected to be available for download soon.

Awareness Sessions

Muskaan conducts awareness sessions in urban and rural areas for children (as young as 4), parents, teachers in schools, colleges, community based organizations, observation home staff, children & women vigilance committees, police personnel and allied agencies.

Training Programs

Muskaan’s training programs go beyond awareness to enable participants to detect child abuse, provide basic support to abused children and their families as well as refer cases to appropriate authorities or organizations.

POCSO awareness programs

Muskaan helps spread awareness of the POCSO Act and its provisions to social workers, government agencies, police personnel, probation officers, and woman’s vigilance committees. Awareness and sensitization with the police is vital as they are the first point of contact with the legal-judicial system for the child and family. Their attitude and knowledge can make a great difference to how comfortable the child feels and to the outcome of the case.

Many of the community based organizations (CBOs) come across cases of child sexual abuse from time to time. They have good outreach capabilities but do not have the knowhow to deal with the case. Muskaan works closely with a network of community organizations and women’s groups to sensitize and train them on various aspects of Child Sexual Abuse.

Interventions and Counselling

Muskaan provides support and counselling to victimized children and children in conflict with law who are accused in sexual abuse cases, as well as their families.

Helpline

The Muskaan helpline in Pune (+91 9689062202) provides information, help and support. They have a network of dedicated resource persons, medical professionals, lawyers etc whom them help connect with victims, families and other persons in need.

Resources

Muskaan has created posters in Marathi and English to be used in awareness sessions. They have also contributed articles in the print media, mainly prominent English and Marathi daily newspapers.

The Resource Centre

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The Aalochana resource centre is a trove of literature and audio video resources on child sexual abuse among other subjects. Some of the books are rare and out of print. There is a TV and a DVD player where their enviable collection of videos can be watched. It also operates as a lending library where resources can be borrowed at a nominal price. The atmosphere is calm, peaceful and invites contemplation.

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Knowing Your Body Will Set You Free

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Dr. Shaibya Saldanha, a practicing gynaecologist and mother of two, is a trainer and speaker on issues of health, sexuality and child sexual abuse in the country. Since 2000, Dr. Saldanha and the ‘Enfold Proactive Health Trust’, the Bangalore-based organization that she co- founded have been trying to set the record straight on health and sexuality in India, one training group at a time.

It has not been the easiest of journeys. But Enfold has been uncommonly determined in airing out orthodox cultural mores, defying rigid patriarchal structures, talking taboos, opening up conversations and ‘creating safe spaces’. During the last 14 years, they have trained a good sized ‘community’ of children, parents, teachers, lawyers, doctors, social workers and police personnel across India on various aspects of the issue from sexuality education to personal safety to care for abuse victims.

The Idea of Enfold:

“I was approached by a girl of around 26 or 27 years of age who asked me to remove her uterus. I asked her why she wanted to do that.”

“Terrible mood swings” she said. Every time she was expecting her periods, her uncontrollable anger would be directed at her family, particularly at her younger brother. As soon as her periods started, the anger subsided without any rationale. Her behavior was so extreme that her family was beginning to avoid her.

“I first told her that just before your periods, your body is actually telling you something about yourself. I explained to her that during this time, the body thinks that it may be pregnant,” says Dr. Saldanha.“It behaves selfishly at the time because it is thinking of ‘yourself’ and your safety above anything else at the time. It is the natural way.”

“I asked her about her family which seemed to be the average traditional unit. I asked her if her parents were forcing her to get married by telling her that she was getting too ‘old’. I asked her to think if her brother’s birth, obviously celebrated in the family as the ‘birth of a boy’, made her feel slighted, as an older sibling and as a girl. I wanted her to think on her dynamics with the rest of the family.”

“The girl left and 8 months later she returned to see me. She told me that she had been thinking about the things I had pointed out to her. Somehow her uncontrollable mood swings had settled and very much in control. She had resolved her own issue.”

“Now this set me thinking – it was knowledge that solved the girl’s issue. Basic knowledge about yourself and your body has the ability to bring change. It could even cure a health issue. That idea of the possibility of knowledge was the foundation for Enfold.”

Talking Health and Sexuality

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Dr. Saldanha admits that she made the khayali pulao (castles in the air) while Dr. Sangeeta Saksena, her long-time colleague and ENFOLD co-founder worked out the more practical implementations of their ambitious plans. At a personal level, it was rough in the beginning. Funding was tight but the two doctors were confident that they were on the right path, doing the right thing.

“We knew that there would always be food on our tables,” says Dr. Saldanha. But the newly formed organization had a bigger hurdle to face.

“It is not easy to easy to talk about sexuality in a country that confuses ignorance with innocence,” says Dr. Saldanha. “More so when the issue is something like child sexual abuse. Parents and schools weren’t very accepting of what we had to say.”

“But we wouldn’t be silent. We kept talking and talking about it. We were determined to speak out until people began to listen.”

They pursued training and speaking engagements and their advocacy with evangelical zeal and often for little money. During this time, they also had the opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Shekhar Seshadri of NIMHANS, Bangalore, one of the foremost authorities in the country on child and adolescent psychiatry, to write the popular ‘On Track’ series of books. The books attempted to teach life skills and personal safety education to children from class 3 to 9. The time spent with Dr. Seshadri and the process of writing was a great learning experience for team ENFOLD.

It was around this time that ENFOLD developed an acute focus on the issue of Child Sexual Abuse.

Working on Child Sexual Abuse

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Cases of child sexual abuse had been coming to ENFOLD. The trauma inflicted by the system through which the minor victim had to go through in order to access healthcare and justice distressed the two doctors. There was a distinct lack of knowledge and sensitivity at every level in the system, from families to doctors to police personnel to social workers. There seemed to be little concern towards the security and well-being of the victim.

“The way the system worked, it was like subjecting the victim to secondary abuse,” says Dr. Saldanha.

They started to look out for a better system, one where the parties involved in dealing with cases of sexual abuse would have better communication and collaboration to reduce the trauma for victims.

Vidya Reddy of Tulir had assisted in the initial foundation of Enfold’s work in combatting CSA. She suggested that Dr. Saldhana enrol with ISPCAN in the Philippines for a course that offered doctors and social workers intensive training on how collaborative child response units (CCRU) could be developed and implemented.

“I immediately signed up,” says Dr. Saldhana. “The training I received there and witnessing first- hand the functioning of the CPU-NET team at the Phillipine General Hospital in Manila fired me up. They gave me their modules to refer to and use. But I soon realized that I would have to significantly reshape it in order for it to work within the Indian context.”

“I completed my course, returned to India and soon after that MS Ramaiah Hospital, Bangalore called on us to train their doctors and other staff in accordance with the newly developed modules.”

Setting Up the first CCRU

“For the module to work, it is not just the hospital staff who had to be trained but all groups including the police and social workers. Everybody related to the case had to be on the same page and work together with the interest and safety of the child at the heart of all procedures.”

“Police officers from the nearby police stations to the hospitals were invited for special training sessions. We introduced all the groups among themselves so they would know, recognize and work with each other.”

“The first CCRU in India was established at MS Ramaiah Hospital. Soon after, we implemented it at Baptist Hospital.The impact was immediate.”

“There was a case of three rescued minor girls who were taken to the CCRU.

We got a call from the NGO who rescued the girls. They said that the doctors took just three hours to complete all the procedures when it otherwise would take them about a day. They also mentioned that the police were polite and went an extra mile to ensure that children and the families felt secure and attended to. This was a great moment for us.”

Enfold’s fantastic work with the CCRUs caught the attention of Department of Women and Child Welfare, Karnataka. If all had gone according to plan, the state would have had, as of today, the honour of being the first state where every major government hospital had a CCRU. It would have been a landmark event in child protection in the country. But even as the UN commended Enfold’s efforts, petty bureaucracy and a single obstructive government servant made sure that the best laid plans would come undone. It was a terrible loss and a grave disappointment to all concerned.

The Way Forward

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On the sunnier side of things, other states are looking to start the CCRU project with Enfold in the near future. And the trainings continue unabated.

In her mind’s eye, Dr. Saldanha has already seen the ideal future of her vision.

“There should be training institute in every district or at least state in the country where we go in and train the first few groups of doctors, social workers, police personnel, lawyers and other stakeholders. We select the ones who respond most positively and train them as Master trainers for that state. These trainers can have monthly visits to other centres and conduct training sessions where they create other trained professionals and trainers. The system is standardized and the cycle then moves ahead on its own momentum.”

“I know it sounds great but I also know that this can only happen is the government is prepared to take ownership of this system.”

So what about Enfold?

“This is not about Enfold. The system is what is important. The system is what should remain.” Dr. Saldhana has given herself till the age of 60 to make her dream of this perfect, self-sustained system come true. From the ages between 60 to 90, she sees herself in the Himalayan villages across North and North East India helping women and children access better healthcare.

Getting to 90 is the easy part. “All in my family live into their nineties,” says Dr. Saldhana. The rest is where her characteristic defiance and courage will come into play- to change the status quo and to better the system..